How to Market Your Brand so That It Resonates With Students

Consider the difference from student to student and school to school

Connecting with students is different than how you'd market to other consumers. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Kieran Mathew

There are nearly 20 million post-secondary students in the U.S., representing over $110 billion in buying power. When these young adults enter college, they are granted radical independence, often moving away from home, making fully independent buying decisions. This independence leads students to try new products and services, causing a shift in previously assumed purchasing behavior. In addition, this is a key period where young consumers begin developing sticky ties to brands. This serves as an opportunity to win new customers with the ultimate prize being invaluable lifetime relationships.

Although the upside is high, many have a challenging time reaching this segment. The average 20-year-old U.S. student observes 10,000-plus marketing messages a day, spending over 50 hours a week on their phones. This saturation has led to decreased brand trust and ultimately a general malaise surrounding digital advertising. The question becomes how to cut through saturated social feeds and interact meaningfully with students.

Make students a part of the conversation

No one understands the student market better than students themselves. It does not make sense for marketing teams to sit in a boardroom and ideate on how to impact students. They are too far removed from this segment. In a rapidly changing landscape, even recent graduates quickly lose touch with student-consumer understanding. The best way to validate your campaign direction is to make these consumers a part of your strategic and creative direction processes.

Brands can do this by reaching out to relevant organizations on campus within their target markets, offering paid work to their members. Bring students onboard to crowdsource ideas directly from the source, helping creative direction. Naturally, students will share unique information on how your brand is performing within their community, providing you with localized consumer insights.

Leverage peer-to-peer marketing

It’s simple: Students do not want to be told what to buy by someone who does not understand them. As a result, there is no better way to engage a student than through one of their peers. There is far more trust in these relationships, allowing for a higher level of communication and retention of information.

Whether you are activating on-foot or creating a digital campaign, leverage students to share your message in their own tone. Once relationships are built with on-campus organizations, the students brought onboard can help you source engaged community members to act as ambassadors or influencers.

Localize your messaging

No school is the same as the next. Culture on-campus is as different as the demographic of the student population. Brand awareness and performance shifts drastically from campus to campus. Influencer marketing continues to thrive in the post-secondary market, as it enables brands to localize their campaigns and messaging, tailoring the content to each school. For example, if you are activating at a college with an international student-dominated population, use international student influencers for increased engagement and conversions.

Once you identify your targets markets, there are ample tools available that can help you source students within these communities. It’s important that brands ensure they are partnering with students who effectively represent their brand DNA, otherwise the content will lack authenticity. To do this, draft an ideal customer persona and pair influencers that represent this image.

Get on-campus

Brands can cut through the digital saturation by creating memorable experiences on-campus. Unfortunately, most brands are doing this wrong by bringing outside representatives, standing under tents or behind booths, waiting for students to engage them. There is nothing memorable or engaging about this. In a time where customer experience has become your brand, a lackluster interaction like this will do more harm than good. Brands must go beyond this by creating something that is shareable and promotes involvement. Instead of bringing outsider brand reps, hire students. They will bring a youthful spirit and drive a lot of traffic to your experience by leveraging their on-campus network.

Look at how your product or service is consumed and ideate relevant, fun opportunities. For example, if you run a media company, consider hosting a panel with business leaders or activists on a relevant, widely discussed issue on-campus. The panel will start a larger conversation on-campus and promotes sharing by providing unique soundbites and empowering takeaways. This is also scalable; the company can run this series at schools, , forming panels based off of topics that are widely discussed at each school.

Maintain the conversation

Retention is critical in this segment. Instead of relying on traditional pay-per-post marketing or a one-off experience, maintain the conversation by forming long-term relationships with your top influencers.

Whether you run a tech company, a retailer or a restaurant, find unique value ads for these influencers incentivizing monthly sharing in a natural and influential manner. For example, you could send influencer monthly merch, credit for your platform or a meal in exchange for content. This will be an effective, low-cost method of keeping your brand top of mind throughout the year.

Your upfront investments to acquire student-consumers will pay dividends when done correctly.

@KieranMathew Kieran Mathew is the founder and CEO of Amplify Solutions Inc.